LINDEN, NJ — Linden High School is celebrating its 20th year as part of the International Baccalaureate program, an open-enrollment course of study that prepares students for college and life after graduation with rigorous class work alongside community service.
IB is open to all juniors and seniors, and allows students to earn up to a semester’s worth of credits toward college at no cost. Students can select classes from six course groups: English, world languages, history, science, math and art.
All IB classes, including the testing, which some districts charge for, are free to LHS students. That level of accessibility is unusual, said IB coordinator Anthony Fischetti.
“When I work with other districts during conferences or roundtables, they’re amazed that we are able to offer the breadth of courses that we are and that it is completely free to students,” he said. “That really is something special, because it not only gives our students that opportunity for the higher-level classes, but it also makes it very accessible for them. Not having to pay the testing fees really removes a barrier for all of our students.”
Students who wish to pursue the IB diploma take courses in each of the subject groups, as well as complete a college-style Theory of Knowledge class, a Creativity, Activity and Service community service project and an extended essay. They must pass challenging assessments — graded by IB instructors from around the world — in all six subject areas.
It’s a lot to grasp for students in ninth grade or younger trying to decide whether IB is right for them.
“The message I try to send is that everyone can fit in the IB puzzle,” said Fischetti, who took over as coordinator in 2019 and continues to teach IB Italian and Introduction to Education. “Whether it’s one or two classes, whether it’s a full diploma, there’s something there for every student to explore some interest.
“I urge younger students to think about what they do in ninth and 10th grade, because I think it’s best for students to be on a path to know what they want to do,” he continued. “Be aware of what we offer and have that long-term view of what you want your academic career to be at the high-school level, in preparation for what you plan to do postsecondary.”
Superintendent Marnie Hazelton said she wants parents to understand what a great resource International Baccalaureate is for students.
“The IB program really is the crown jewel that epitomizes our district motto of ‘Excellence in Education,’” she said. “Students who go into the IB program with a willingness to work hard come away with a greater understanding not only of the subject matter, but of new ways of thinking and learning. It can help put them a step ahead, as they go on to higher education or a career.”
Linden High School has a diverse student population, and the IB program’s enrollment reflects that. Of 137 senior IB students in the Class of 2020, 65 percent were female, 36 percent were black, 40 percent were Hispanic or Latino, and students came from a range of socioeconomic levels.
The benefits students gain from being involved in the IB program include independent thinking and student-driven learning; connections to some of the highest-ranking universities around the world; cultural awareness through the development of a second language; and the opportunity to engage with people in an increasingly globalized, rapidly changing world.
People may be more familiar with Advanced Placement courses, which also offer students the opportunity to gain college credits in high school. In the past, AP may have been more recognized by colleges and universities, but IB scores have gained a growing amount of recognition and value at college and university levels.
The educational objectives of the two programs differ as well: AP courses tend to focus intensively on a particular subject, while IB courses take a more holistic approach. Attaining an IB diploma would be on par with earning a top grade on AP exams in six courses.
“The biggest misconception, and something that we have been trying to realign a little bit, is that IB is only for the best of the best,” Fischetti said. “Not to say that we don’t have amazing students in the program; we definitely do. But we have had students coming from a college prep background or an honors background or a special ed background that have found success in the IB program. And even the word ‘success’ is very much defined on an individual basis.”
These three core aspects of the IB diploma program reflect the holistic approach that makes IB unique:
• Theory of Knowledge — This college-style course shows students how knowledge is constructed and that there are multiple pathways to learning. The key foundations are thinking critically and asking questions.
• Creativity, Activity and Service — The CAS community service program encourages students to be active in their communities. It is not only about helping others, but also about growing oneself.
• Extended essay — This project allows students to utilize the knowledge gleaned in their areas of study to develop research skills that will help them in higher education.
Some adjustments have had to be made for virtual learning and social distancing, but Fischetti said students and teachers have worked to overcome the challenges.
“I’m thankful for a staff that is really outstanding in terms of their understanding of their students and flexible in terms of work,” Fischetti said. “And for the students themselves. They’ve had challenge after challenge, and to still have so many students go through the IB and to be part of the program, it says a lot about what they understand that it can offer them.”
Photos Courtesy of Gary Miller